YA – The Infinity Courts

Bowman, Akemi Dawn. The Infinity Courts. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-45649-5. 465 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

The Infinity Courts starts with Nami who is sure that her life is finally beginning at the age of eighteen; however, those dreams are halted when she is murdered. When she comes to, she realizes she is in a place called Infinity. Infinity is ruled by a queen called Ophelia who was a virtual assistant to the human race when Nami was alive. Now, Ophelia is determined to eradicate humans, and she is very close to completing that mission. Nami has a choice to join the resistance and help eliminate Ophelia, or just ignore everything and let Ophelia take over and complete her mission.

THOUGHTS: This is a great science fiction book that doesn’t get bogged down in science facts. The pacing is well done, and the main characters have decent character arcs throughout the story. This is the first book in a trilogy, so readers have something to look forward to.

Science Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring. Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-68263-208-6. 47 p. $6.99. Grades K-2. 

The King & Kayla mystery/detective series for young readers is back with another enjoyable installment. As the story opens, narrator King (a dog) and Kayla (his human) are playing outside in the snow when they are joined by some friends. Kayla’s friend Asia shows the group the special ring she is wearing that used to belong to her grandmother. After they finish playing, the group goes inside Kayla’s house, where they dry off, eat a snack, and settle down to watch some television. Suddenly Asia realizes her ring is missing! Working together the youngsters (and King) embark on a search for the ring. In order to solve the mystery, they must employ skills including teamwork, gathering facts, and analyzing clues. The text is accompanied by numerous pencil and digital illustrations by Nancy Myers.

THOUGHTS: This delightful early chapter book will hold great appeal for readers. It serves as an excellent gateway to mystery/detective stories and could also be used in lessons about problem solving. The book also incorporates humor through the character of King, who can be somewhat excitable and is always ready to enjoy a snack. Recommended.

Early Chapter Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – Ali Cross Like Father, Like Son

Patterson, James. Ali Cross Like Father, Like Son. Little, Brown, 2021. 978-0-316-50013-5. 294 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Ali Cross, son of Patterson’s famous literary detective, Alex Cross, is back in the second book of the series. Ali loves his father’s work, and when his friends are in trouble, he jumps into the situation, determined to use his own talents to solve the problem. Ali and his best friends are at a local D.C. music festival, waiting to see their friend Zoe’s mom perform, when gunshots ring out. Ali races to see if Zoe is OK. He eventually finds her in the backstage maze of semi trucks, RVs and trailers, only to realize she has been shot. Ali rallies his investigative team to discover what happened, but they run into a roadblock in Zoe, who seems determined to keep Ali from finding out the truth. Ali Cross is a delightful upper middle grade and middle school series. Ali is one of the most realistic characters in tween detective fiction. He lies to his Nana Mama and gets in trouble (then lies again). He feels guilty, he makes mistakes, and he loves his family. The plot embraces current issues such as homelessness, police violence, and the proliferation of black shooting victims, balanced with Ali’s personal experience with police work. Ali and Zoe are Black, and other friends are diverse.

THOUGHTS: A well-crafted story from a master storyteller. Patterson is the king of pacing, and the story will keep even reluctant readers engaged. Topical issues add some depth to the book. Mystery fans should enjoy the series, which will lead them to Alex Cross books when they’re older.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Realm Breaker

Aveyard, Victoria. Realm Breaker. Harper Teen, 2021. 978-0-062-87262-3. 563 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Aveyard returns with a lush new fantasy series that feels like a cross between King Arthur and Game of Thrones. A new player has come to the Ward, a man with the power to open Spindles, portals between realms. Spindles have not been opened for generations, not since the Immortals traveled into the Ward and found themselves stranded, unable to return to their home. But now Taristan has stolen the sword to create spindles, and begun releasing monsters and undead creatures into the world. Those knights who survived the initial battle between good and evil realize what Taristan is unleashing, yet few rulers care to believe them. The Immortal Domacridhan knows what it will take to stop Taristan – an individual with Corblood, and a Spindlesword – and he sets out to locate 17-year-old Corayne, an illegitimate daughter of the Cor lineage, who yearns for adventures her pirate mother refuses to grant her. The group gradually enlarges to seven unique characters, including a squire who lost his Lord at the first battle; a forger; a bounty hunter; a witch; and Sorasa, an assassin who steals the story. With no support from the monarchs of the Ward, the ragtag group proceeds to try to close the spindles before their world is set ablaze. This first book in the series has a great deal of scene setting to accomplish, and Aveyard evokes a fascinating world of exotic lands and characters of all ethnicities and skin tones. A detailed map on the endpapers assists readers in keeping track of the sprawling territory, and at times the proliferation of characters, locales, and realms can be overwhelming, but the story is gripping and delightfully satisfying. While Corayne seems to be set up as the main character, the story rotates between all the voices, and each character is a well-developed personality: Andry, the 17-year-old squire has nobility ingrained in him, but slowly develops the ruthlessness needed to survive their quest; Dom, the Immortal, does not quite understand mortals; and Sorasa, the female assassin, just might have a heart under her tough persona. There is no shortage of action, battles, monsters, daring escapes, and breathtaking betrayals.

THOUGHTS: Fantasy lovers should flock to this new series and be waiting on the edge of their seats for the sequel.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Hotel Flamingo

Milway, Alex. Hotel Flamingo. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-684-64126-0. 192 p. $5.99. Grades 1-3. 

Anna has her work cut out for her when she inherits the Hotel Flamingo from her great-aunt Mathilde. The once successful hotel is now a former shell of itself, run-down with only a few employees. Anna is determined to bring the hotel back to life and make it the best hotel on Animal Boulevard. Though Anna is a young girl, the rest of the characters populating this charming book are animals! Anna soon has a complete staff helping her to get the hotel up and running including T. Bear the doorman, Madame Le Pig (chef), Stella Giraffe (handywoman) and Squeak the mouse (bellboy), among others. Their goal–to make Hotel Flamingo the sunniest and most welcoming hotel in the area. Soon, a variety of guests arrive, including a family of cockroaches, a tortoise, and even flamingoes. Anna soon realizes that running a successful hotel catering to a menagerie of guests will require staff teamwork, creative thinking and a can-do spirit. Will Hotel Flamingo succeed?

THOUGHTS: This charming story is perfect for beginning chapter book readers who will no doubt appreciate both the heart and humor present throughout the plot. As the hotel staff work to restore Hotel Flamingo, characteristics such as teamwork, cooperation, and ingenuity are woven into the storyline. What really elevates this title is the inclusion of illustrations (drawn by the author) that help to bring the animals and their unique characteristics to life. Hotel Flamingo is the first volume in a four volume series–I can’t wait to read more about these characters!

Fantasy (Animal)            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – Lux: The New Girl

Woodfolk, Ashley. Lux: The New Girl. Penguin Workshop. 2020. 978-0-593-09602-4. 139 pp. $15.99. Grades 6-9.

Lux Ruby Lawson has had a default setting – pissed – ever since her dad left. She was kicked out of her old school for fighting, and her mom has put her on notice: if she messes up again, she’ll have to go live with the father who walked out on her, the same father who just welcomed a new baby girl. Lux wants to stay out of trouble, but when a classmate pushes her too far the ensuing scuffle is captured on multiple cell phone cameras. Lux is expelled and relocated to her dad’s apartment. Through a connection and a strong interview, she’s accepted at Augusta Savage School of the Arts in Harlem, to pursue her interest in photography. She makes friends with the “Flyy Girls,” Noelle, Tobyn, and Micah (each of whom takes center stage in subsequent installments of the Flyy Girls series). But Lux worries about what will happen if the videos of the fight resurface and her new friends discover the past she’s kept hidden. Ashley Woodfolk packs a lot into just 141 pages: family dynamics, friend drama, mild romance, school pranks, and even a photography assignment for the school paper. Each character’s personality is vibrant and distinct, and Lux is believably flawed. Her evolution, from a girl who settles scores with a punch to a more mature friend and daughter, is the endearing core of the novel.

THOUGHTS: Lux: The New Girl is an excellent hi-lo series starter to add to school library collections, and more importantly to read and discuss with students. It would pair well with Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence by Joel Christian Gill for a professional book study.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Pony Girls (Set 2) Series Fiction

Mullarkey, Lisa. Pony Girls (Set 2). Abdo Publishing, 2020. 978-1-532-13646-7. $20.95 ea. $83.80 set of 4. Grades 2-5.

Charlie. 978-1-532-13646-7.
Gracie. 978-1-532 13647-4.
Paisley. 978-1-532-13648-1.
Zoey. 978-1-532-13649-8.

Charlie loves being a camper at Storm Cliff Stables, but some things just make her belly swishy swashy. She wants to be able to go on a full trail ride and jump the vaults, but she just can’t seem to do it without her belly causing troubles and her heart going thump, thump, thump. Thankfully her friends, Aunt Jane, her mom, and Dr. Bell have helped her with different strategies to keep her nerves away. She will become a full Warrior and be able to achieve her goals, if she keeps visualizing them and doing her very best!

THOUGHTS: The ability in this book to discuss anxiety issues and panic attacks is absolutely phenomenal. The coping strategies listed in here are great strategies that readers can use to help keep nerves at bay and help reduce anxiety. A great choice for a young reader who is interested in horses or animals and may be dealing with their own fears and anxieties.

Realistic Fiction         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – Ready to Fall; Thunderhead

Pixley, Marcella. Ready to Fall.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2017. 9780374303587. $17.99. 360 p. Gr. 8 and up.

After the death of his beloved mother, 16-year-old Max Friedman struggles with his spiraling depression and an unhealthy obsession with an imaginary brain tumor.  Withdrawing from his grieving father and completely unable to cope at his public school, he is given the opportunity to switch to a progressive private high school.  The school matches new students with a student fellow and a faculty mentor, and so Max meets Felicia, the pink-haired free spirit who goes by the name Fish and the demanding professor Gates. The change is a lifeline for Max.  With the help of his new circle of creative friends, some inspiring teachers and his supportive father and grandmother, Max hopes to lift the heavy veil of his depression and make a fresh start. Many of the characters in the book are intriguing;  well-developed and flawed or struggling in some way and Max’s relationships with all of them ring true. The writing is emotionally charged and Max’s grief is palpable. Pixley peppers the pages with scenes from Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, writings that mirror Max’s pain and depression, but also help him come to terms with his own struggles. THOUGHTS: Could be used as a contemporary companion piece for classes studying either of these classic works.

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Shusterman, Neal. Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe Book 2).  Simon and Schuster, 2017. $18.99. 504 p. 9781442472457. Gr. 7 and up.

Thunderhead, the second novel in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, is a compelling sequel to the boldly original Scythe. The series is set in a dystopian future in which the Thunderhead, an omniscient, advanced AI system, has solved most of humanity’s problems including war and mortality.  The Scythdom was created to maintain a sustainable population and scythes are the individuals selected and trained to be the benevolent guardians of death, gleaning people as necessary to prevent overpopulation.  But now within the Scythdom, the Old Guard and the New Order factions are at war with each other. Cintra, as Scythe Anastasia, is revered as an inspiring Junior Scythe, respected for her adherence to the Old Guard principles.  Rowan, who has been denied his initiation, has assumed the mantle of Scythe Lucifer, a vigilante out to bring justice to the New Order scythes who relish their power and the perks of their positions. The Thunderhead itself features as a narrator and provides us with glimpses into its consciousness, objectives, and motivations as the defacto government head and deity. As the two sides of the Scythedom fight for control,  the Thunderhead is forbidden from intervening in their struggle and is unable to resolve the battle between the noblest and basest instincts of individual human beings. THOUGHTS: Yet another winning series from Shusterman, the master storyteller; readers will be eagerly awaiting the final book in this trilogy. A recommended purchase for all YA collections.

Science Fiction, Dystopian     Nancy Summers, Abington School District

MS – Girls Who Code; The Silver Mask

Saujani, Reshma.  Girls Who Code. Viking, 2017. 9780425287538. $17.99. 168 p. Gr. 5-8.

Written by the founder of the Girls Who Code foundation and website, an organization created to bridge the gender gap in technology, Reshma  Saujani encourages girls to take up code writing as a key for their own personal needs and entertainment but most especially as a path for their future careers.  Conversational in tone  and interspersed with original artwork, this informational guide explains in clear and simple language the vocabulary and elements  of coding, provides a brief history of computer developments, presents a Q and A with girls who participate in Girls Who Code activities and profiles the work and achievements of real women working in today’s tech fields. Includes glossary and index. Thoughts: Though aimed at a middle-grade audience, it is recommended for elementary, middle and high schools, a perfect title to encourage girls of all ages to explore tech as a hobby or an academic pursuit.  More resources available at GirlsWhoCode.com for librarians or teachers who may be interested in starting a girls’ coding club at their schools.

005.1 Computer Science           Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Black, Holly and Cassandra Clare. The Silver Mask (Magisterium Bk. 4). Scholastic Press, 2017.  978-0-545-52236-6 232p. $17.99.  Gr. 5 and up.

Another solid book in the fast-moving Magisterium series, this books starts after Call has spent six months in prison, framed for a crime he did not commit. Even in prison, there are choices that Call has to make. Call is constantly asking himself, “Am I evil?” “If I do this, is it good or bad?”  There is a quick, suspenseful prison break that moves the story forward.  The action never stops, except for a few moments of possible romance.  THOUGHTS:   This series is great for middle-grade readers of fantasy.  It may satisfy Percy Jackson fans as well as Harry Potter fans.  Readers will come away pondering the demarcation between good and evil and wondering if there is a grey area.  

Fantasy     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

Upper Elem/MS – Pottymouth & Stoopid; Beach Party Surf Monkey; Genevieve’s War; Ban this Book

Patterson, James and Chris Grabenstein. Pottymouth and Stoopid. Little, Brown and Company, 2017. 978-0-316-34963-5. $13.99. 305 p. Gr. 3-6.

Michael and David have been best friends since preschool. Both have corrosive nicknames bestowed on them by cruel peers and thoughtless teachers. David was tagged as Stoopid in preschool; Michael, due to his penchant for inventing outrageous words, was dubbed Pottymouth by a substitute teacher in third grade. Now the two boys, along with their friend Anna, suffer through school, tormented by their classmates and scorned by teachers for their over-the-top imagination and restlessness. But everything changes when a new TV show airs, based on the antics of the boys and their friends. Even though the show is wildly popular, it only aggravates tensions at school, until David learns his “ex-dad” is behind the show. Eventually, the boys achieve fame for all nerds and see the bullies cut down. Both boys come from challenging home lives; Michael is in foster care, and it is eventually revealed they both test as geniuses, causing trouble because they are bored in school. Teachers and administrators are uniformly portrayed as incompetent at best, cruel at worst. But students will love the potty humor and sweet revenge of the story. THOUGHTS: Patterson and Grabenstein know how to write to their audience.  While many parts of the book made me cringe, young readers will relate and thoroughly enjoy the book.  A great step up for Captain Underpants fans.

Realistic Fiction; Humor     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Grabenstein, Chris. Beach Party Surf Monkey. Random House, 2017. 978-0-553-53610-2. $13.99. 301 p. Gr. 3-6.

Entertainer extraordinaire and part-time detective P.T. Wilkie is back in this second entry to Chris Grabenstein’s Welcome to Wonderland series. P.T. and his friend Gloria are on a mission to have a new beach party revival movie filmed at his family’s St. Pete Beach, Florida, motel. The pair prove successful, but that’s when the real problems start. The teen pop idol star can’t act and has no chemistry with his Oscar-winning female costar. Plus, someone is out to sabotage the movie. Could it be the owner of the mega-hotel next store who is pressuring P.T.’s mom to sell the Wonderland Motel? P.T. and Gloria have their hands full trying to keep the movie on schedule, determine the culprit behind the dirty deeds, and control You-Tube star Kevin the Monkey. Can the creative pair of friends save the movie and the motel?  THOUGHTS: A delightfully fun read from funny guy Grabenstein. Hijinks and mayhem abound, and will keep students entertained to the last page.

Realistic Fiction, Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Genevieve’s War. Holiday House, 2017. 978-0-8234-3800-6. $16.95. 222p. Gr. 4-8.

Genevieve and her brother, Andre, were spending the summer of 1939 with their Alsatian grandmother at her farm in France near the German border. Andre leaves early to return home to the States, but when it is time for Genevieve to leave, she surprises herself by impulsively deciding to stay. Genevieve was not particularly drawn to her dour grandmother, but she is concerned for the elderly woman on the eve of the German invasion. The two become dependent on each other as German troops establish themselves in the town and a German officer billets himself at the farmhouse. As time passes, Genevieve and her grandmother grow close as they attempt to eke out an existence in the ravaged village, and Genevieve learns about the father she never knew. The stakes become even higher when Genevieve hides an injured member of the resistance in their attic. THOUGHTS : A beautifully crafted, suspenseful story that immerses the reader in daily life in wartime France deftly conveying the suspicion that takes over the community as no one knows who to trust.

Historical Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Gratz, Alan. Ban This Book. Tom Doherty, 2017. 978-0-7653-8556-7. $15.99. 243 p. Gr. 3-6.

Quiet fourth grader Amy Anne is appalled to learn her favorite book, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, has been banned from her school library. A classmate’s mother felt the book promoted lying, stealing, and running away from home, and the school board vindicated her claim. Amy Anne goes to the board meeting but is too shy to speak up. Soon additional books disappear from the library. Starting a one-girl protest, she begins to read the banned books, then shares them with her classmates. Soon, the Banned Book Locker Library is born with the illicit books quietly passed around the school. Unfortunately, when the library is discovered, the school librarian is fired. The students come up with an ingenious plan to fight back and show the parent, as well as the school board, the innate folly of banning books. THOUGHTS: All librarians should treat themselves to this book (it’s dedicated to librarians) with Gratz’s knowledgeable treatment of the school book banning issue. For students, it’s a great introduction to the topic. The book contains a Reading and Activity Guide in the back, making it great for a classroom read-aloud or lit circle.

Realistic Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD